It was early Monday night, Tom and I were settling down on the boat for the evening. I happened to look to the north, the hills above Santa Paula were on fire. I told Tom to call his parents who lived along the foothills of Ventura. They knew there was a fire. At 10pm the power on our dock started flickering and went out. Everyone came out on the dock to see what the problem was, I looked toward the fire, the power was out across the whole plain from Oxnard to Ventura. The fire had grown so fast, as I tried to get my bearings on how far to Ventura it had gone I determined it was barreling down on Ventura right behind my in-laws house. I had Tom call his parents again. They said they were okay. I went to sleep. The hot wind was howling, our sailboat was restlessly tossing in her slip. Something wasn’t right about this fire, I could feel it. At 1 am I looked out again, the sight of the hills on fire took my breath away. The power was still out and I felt a sense of doom. I told Tom we were coming to his parents to help them evacuate. We got in the car and I drove us to Ventura. The streetlights and signals were all out. I had to concentrate to remember where the signals were so we could safely stop and get through the intersections. We were driving right towards the inferno. I knew that if we didn’t get to his parents and get them to leave they wouldn’t leave. They had lived in the same house for 55 years, they were in their 80’s. There was something about driving towards danger, it goes against everything in your being to do that, but something else took over as I had one thing on my mind, to get Tom’s parents out. As we drove to Ventura, we could see people stopping to take pictures, people in their cars moving away from Ventura and the burning hillsides. We got closer, the fire had enveloped the entire hill scape behind our city, it had made it to the west end already – it took my breath away. I had never seen so much destruction. With laser focus we navigated through the streets of Ventura as I had done for the last 39 years. We new we couldn’t take the road along the hillside – so we took the side streets. Everything was dark – the hospital must have been on generators – no power anywhere. We arrived at Tom’s parents house and the there was a bright orange glow on the hillside, the fire was 2 streets away. My father in law sat on the couch in the dark. I opened the curtains to their patio – the fire glowed. It was time to leave. I went outside to see what their neighbors were doing. I found some movement down the street and walked toward them. They said they were evacuating their grandmother. The smoke was getting bad. I hurried back to the house and in my most calm voice said we needed to go now, your neighbor is leaving too. I looked out the back window again, the flames were now on cresting the hill. I knew that no one was coming to evacuate them, the fire was massive and growing too fast. As Tom and I helped them to get their things, the hardest decisions they both had to make was which coat to take. I couldn’t think about how hard that moment was for them. A life’s collection of things and memories and we were asking them to leave it behind, right now, no thinking. I told them its just precaution, everything would be okay. I hoped and prayed it would. They insisted on driving one of their cars tho I intensely discouraged them. Tom drove their other car and I in the lemonade cube. We were taking them to Tom’s sister’s house further down in Ventura away from the hillside. The inferno was raging now, hard to see where it was heading, or where you were safe. I didn’t feel safe. As we made our way through Ventura, the streets were alive it was after 2 am and the fire literally looked like it was headed for the sea and would take everything in its path. I imagined that there would be no Ventura – its not possible, that couldn’t happen. We arrived to my sister in law’s house and it was cozy with a fire going as the power was still out. We got the parents settled and made our way back to the boat. More cars lined the highways now, fleeing from the fire. The power was still out and it was dangerous driving through intersections without power. I hoped and prayed we would make it back safe. I called Tom’s Aunt who was also in Ventura making sure she was safe. We saw a smashed up car at a large intersection who must not have stopped – the police were there. We kept on moving back to our boat, our refuge from the fire storm. The hot, dry wind was howling making it unsettling as we arrived to the dock. I looked back again towards the hills, it was horrifying. There was no sleeping that night, glued to the news coming in, but the information was hard to get as the cell towers were jammed with traffic, the emergency websites were jammed and we couldn’t get updates. The power was out all night. Eventually we got a couple of hours of sleep. It seemed like a nightmare – we awoke to find out the devastation that the Thomas Fire had made. Since then over 237k acres have burned and its only 25% contained. The towns of Ventura and Ojai have been spared, tho those around the edges were not so lucky. Most everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Fortunately, my in-laws house survived. Through the devastation the community has rallied around to help. People are opening their doors to their homes, businesses and restaurants in an effort to help. The outpouring of love from outside of our area has come to our communities to help. The firefighters and first responders that have come from far and wide to fight this fire has been amazing. People are banding together, creating helping groups to rebuild and help those in need. Our lemonade has been going out to the shelters and those helping with the recovery. One woman who supports the local community lost her home and everything she owned was getting supplies at our local Vons and her grandson said the shelter could use some local love – they purchased 2 cases of our lemonades to donate. It warms my heart beyond words to hear this. I love our Ojai and Ventura community and know that it will rebuild and be stronger for this.
Lori, Chief Believer xoxo
Lori’s Original Lemonade